With the 2017 season officially over, here are my way too early thoughts on next year’s team. The Tigers will look to get over the hump and return to Omaha for the first time since 2010 next year. Monte Lee and Co. lose a few key players including the entire starting rotation, Reed Rohlman, and Chase Pinder but some key returnees as well as some newcomers with high potential will keep expectations high for the 2018 baseball Tigers.
Monte Lee and Co. lost outfielders Chase Pinder and Reed Rohlman to the MLB Draft as well as first baseman Andrew Cox to graduation. The Tigers will also lose outfielder Weston Jackson, a graduate transfer from Presbyterian College (who really came on down the stretch) after using his final year of eligibility to play for the Tigers. That said, the Tigers will return a good number of key players from last year’s squad and will also look to a few of last year’s reserves to step up and make contributions next year. Starters returning include third baseman Grayson Byrd, shortstop Logan Davidson, second baseman Jordan Greene, outfielder/first baseman Seth Beer, and catcher Chris Williams. Chris Williams’ decision to return for his senior season at Clemson is HUGE for next year’s squad. One of the team leaders, Williams was second on the team with 14 home runs. After injuring his shoulder diving back to first base, Williams was delegated to occasional DH-duties the rest of the season and the Tigers really missed his presence after his injury. Chris Williams, Logan Davidson, and Seth Beer will look to make up to offensive core of the 2018 Clemson lineup.
Replacing Pinder and Rohlman in the lineup and in the outfield will be an important task for Monte Lee this offseason. Look for returning players KJ Bryant and Drew Wharton to get significant opportunities to compete to replace both Pinder and Rohlman.
As far as replacing Cox at first base goes, Coach Lee mentioned Chris Williams as being a potential option to play first base for the Tigers. Williams was the starting catcher for most of the season before injuring his shoulder. Williams’ injury allowed freshman Kyle Wilkie to get opportunities behind the dish. Wilkie did very well defensively but struggled with the bat early on before coming alive in the postseason. Having Williams man first base would allow Wilkie opportunities to continue to develop behind the dish while also taking stress off Williams’ shoulder which is expected to be surgically repaired soon. We could still see Williams catch from time to time but my early expectation is for Williams to be the front-runner to be the Tigers’ starting first baseman and for Wilkie to be the guy behind the dish. Also, don’t be surprised if we see Seth Beer used some at first base when/if Williams is used behind the plate. The coaching staff initially moved Seth Beer to first base last year before moving him back to the outfield due to the emergence of Andrew Cox.
It’s hard to get a good read on most of the newcomers but Coach Lee recently talked about a few incoming freshmen that could make an impact next year. The headliner of the position players in the incoming freshman class is outfielder Kier Meredith. Kier Meredith was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 28th round of the 2017 draft but is expected to come to school. Meredith is a classic 5-tool type of player that has elite speed, elite defensive ability in the outfield, and has the ability to hit the ball to all fields as a left-handed hitter. Look for Meredith to be the front-runner to replace Chase Pinder in centerfield and to be the Tigers’ leadoff hitter in 2018.
Other newcomers that could make important contributions to the 2018 Tigers at the plate and in the field include catcher/outfielder Matthew Cooper, infielder Elijah Henderson, and outfielder Bryce Teodosio. Coach Lee also mentioned that coaching staff’s intent to develop incoming LHP Sam Weatherly as a two-way player for the Tigers. Weatherly was drafted as a pitcher by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 27th round of the 2017 MLB Draft but is expected to enroll at Clemson. While Weatherly provides a lot of upside on the mound he also has the ability to run well, hit, and play first base as well as the outfield. Look for Weatherly to be an important piece for the potential success of the Tigers’ baseball squad for the coming years if he can fully develop to his potential as a two-way player.
The Tigers will be taking a big hit to their pitching staff as they lose their entire weekend rotation (Barnes, Krall, and Eubanks) along with their midweek starter, Tyler Jackson who was a major contributor to the pitching staff for the majority of the season. Replacing the top four starting pitchers will not be an easy task but there are a few options for the coaches to choose from.
Some options include rising-junior righty Brooks Crawford who was one the top arms in the bullpen for most of the season before being sidelined with mono towards the end of the season as well as lefty Jake Higginbotham, who missed all of last season as well as the end of his freshman season with an arm injury but showed promise during his freshman season. Rising-sophomore righty Owen Griffith could also get a look at being a part of the weekend rotation after coming on strong towards the end of the season in a long-relief role. Rising-sophomore lefty Mitchell Miller could also get a look to potentially start on the weekends or during mid-week games. Miller possesses a lot of potential and has certain pitches that could potentially be in play at the MLB level but he was used sparingly during his freshman season. Other returning players that were a big part of the Tigers’ bullpen for most of the season that could also be looked at for potential increased roles include lefty Jacob Hennessy, righty Ryley Gilliam, and righty Ryan Miller.
Like I mentioned in the first section, its hard to get a read on most of the newcomers. The Tigers had three committed pitchers drafted in the previous MLB Draft- Sam Keating, Spencer Strider, and Sam Weatherly. Fortunately, only one of those three pitchers, Sam Keating, was drafted high enough to forgo enrolling at Clemson. Keating was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 4th round this year.
Weatherly and Strider are both expected to pitch for the Tigers next season and will likely have substantial roles next season and beyond. Both Weatherly and Strider possess a lot of upside and could potentially get looks to get a substantial amount of innings next season as well as to be potential members of the weekend rotation sometime in the next few years.
Projected Lineup and Weekend Rotation
- As the season is still six months away, this is a very early guess at what the starting lineup and rotation could look like next season.
KJ Bryant/Drew Wharton-LF
Brooks Crawford- Friday
Jake Higginbotham- Saturday
Owen Griffith- Sunday